Monday, November 03, 2014

Privilege doesn't pay the bills, Installment # 532

When I saw the title, "How I Got Rejected From a Job at the Container Store," I immediately assumed that the associated article would be a personal essay by someone who finds it inconceivable that a store wouldn't just hire everyone who applies. I don't know why that's where my mind went - and not to any number of other reasons someone might have not gotten a job - but that's what happened.

In a sense, Deborah Copaken's article takes that one step further. Copaken comes across as having felt herself entitled to a job at the store, and is stunned when the titular rejection occurs:

Because seriously, if an Emmy-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and Harvard grad cannot land a job as a greeter at The Container Store—or anywhere else for that matter, hard as I tried—we are all doomed.
She seems under the impression, in other words, that one would expect the Container Store to put resumes like hers on the top of the pile. When, alas, those are exactly the kind of qualifications you wouldn't want to bring up while looking for a retail position. As Ester Bloom points out, dropping a euphemistic-Boston may repel certain employers, but even without the Harvard angle, it's clear where this approach might fail. If anything about your application suggests you think you deserve a pat on the back for swallowing your pride and applying to a certain position, no matter the sector, you probably won't get the job. And if you are, as the imperfect term has it, overqualified, whoever's doing the hiring is bound to think you think you're too good for the job (which, if you're referring to the job ad itself as "spam," you probably do), and that you'll quit the moment something else becomes available, which is, from an employer's perspective, a reasonable concern.

I say all of this, however, not to chastise Copaken, but rather because these details actually show the importance of her article. As she makes perfectly clear, she needed a job like the one this retail establishment was advertising. She - a single mother and breast cancer patient! - needed money and health insurance, things that ambient privilege does not provide. She may not have known how to get a job along these lines, but that was posing a real problem for her. She wasn't playing at being scrappy, or - as Barbara Ehrenreich once did - posing as a working-class worker in order to write about doing so. She was - as she explains it - genuinely in-between gigs, and as glamorous as those gigs do sound, she was suffering from some not especially first-world problems in the interim.

The thing to which Copaken feels entitled is the ability to support her family and pay for her own much-needed health care. And is that so unreasonable? Bloom has it right when she gives as the article's first takeaway, "Even with the improvements made possible by Obamacare, our for-profit, tied-to-employment health insurance system is a horse poop cupcake topped with FML sprinkles." That's the major point here - and these are issues for the state, not The Container Store, to address. And that, to me, is the essential. Sure, we can fault Copaken for sounding naive, but naive people also have living expenses. That she evidently comes from the class that hasn't a clue about such things didn't spare her from needing to be clued-in. And even if she had been a savvier Container Store applicant, there's no reason to think she'd have been picked from among the hundreds who probably applied.


Britta said...

Right. I have had this experience looking for work in non-euphemistic Portland, even without acting like I deserved a "lowly" service industry job. I applied for a holiday temp cashier job once that had over 100 applicants for one slot. Those are worse odds than getting into Harvard. Places that can be picky chose to do so, and they're looking for reliable employees with some longevity. The Subway sandwich knock-off wanted someone who wasn't going back to college in 3 months. Every coffee shop and restaurant could require years of experience and multiple past references. I couldn't even get hired as a maid because I didn't own a car (I told them I could take the bus, but that didn't cut it.) My problem wasn't as dire, but my college aid assumed I'd be earning $$ during the summer, and I really wanted to work. Eventually I figured out I could get $$ from my school as a "disadvantaged" student and get paid to volunteer, but for the first summer I had to cobble together random odd jobs that earned maybe $50 or $100 here and there mainly through family friends. After college I did become a barista, but that required a 1.5 hour bus commute to the suburbs and being close family friends with the owner. I didn't have health insurance and went to PP for any medical needs (thanks, Title 10).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"Places that can be picky chose to do so, and they're looking for reliable employees with some longevity."

Yes, that's it exactly. And it seemed like the author understood at most only the first part of that. That is, she seemed to think that if an employer had options, they'd go with the person from Harvard.

And yes, your experience sounds familiar to me as well, from my own high school and college era job searches. And I didn't grow up disadvantaged by any stretch of the imagination, which made me wonder exactly how this author made it to adulthood without having that sort of job-hunting-101 experience. But, as I say in the post, I don't fault her for this - growing up very wealthy shouldn't mean some kind of adulthood comeuppance consisting of a lack of health insurance after a cancer diagnosis.